Burma Bazaar’s origins
The Tamil population in Burma (Myanmar) is hardly anything compared to what it was during the rule of the British in the 19th century. Indians then were the backbone of the civil administration and were influential in Burmese society. The Chettiar community from Tamil Nadu had firmly established themselves. As prominent businessmen and powerful moneylenders in Burma during the earlier days of the British Raj. It was during the civil unrest of the 60’s in Burma that many Indians were forced to leave the country. Many of the Tamil populace came back to Chennai and settled in and around the north of Chennai. And brought back dishes like Atho.
Burma Bazaar was setup to assist the refugees to settle back in consisted mainly of traders who had come from Burma. Soon enough this market became a thriving electronics market with a big grey side to it. But not everyone who came from Burma was a trader. Some of the Tamilians also brought back interesting street food dishes like Atho inspired from Burmese food and set up their stalls around the Burma Bazaar.
I was told about this Burmese street noodles concept and directed towards Broadway in North Chennai by my friend Thiagarajan Kumararaja, a Tamil film director. I’d never gone to North Chennai before. And it took me some time to figure that the Burmese style noodles were called ‘Atho’ are mostly found on ‘2nd Line Beach road’ which is parallel to Rajaji Salai. Atho’s like a corrupted take on ‘A Thoke’, the Burmese generic name for salad. The specific dish it gets inspired from I guess is Khauk Swe Thoke, a Burmese noodle and cabbage salad
If you’re lucky, you’ll also find someone selling Mohinga, a fish and rice noodle soup, that’s also the national dish of Burma. There were quite a few of these Atho stalls and each of them had 5 to 10 customers. Tucking into bowls of hot noodles. The first one I tasted wasn’t that nice, so I took the help from a local person who directed me to a noodle stall that wasn’t in this lane but just off the parallel Rajaji Salai. ‘Avalada Best Taste’ is what he told me
Aziz Bhai’s Stall
The stall I was sent to was Abdul Aziz’s stall. The noodles were ok-ok, so I decided to also try the egg soup being offered. Aziz bhai put an egg into a soup bowl, cut it up and added some flavoured oil to it. To that, he added salt water, tamarind extract and a bit of pounded red chilly. He then filled the bowl with a soup which tasted sort of like Mutton or Chicken but I couldn’t really put my finger to it. Aziz bhai laughingly told me that it was pure vegetarian and made from banana stem.
I was very surprised as the soup tasted very non-veg. It had ginger, pepper, coconut and was flavoured with banana stem stock and I have to admit, the result was quite outstanding. The noodles were just about okay but at the same time this’s quite a popular roadside snack. I guess it grows on you. But the egg soup was outstanding.
Address – Abdul Aziz’s and the other Atho stalls are located in a lane in between Rajaji Salai and 2nd Line Beach road.
Here’s a recipe of Atho. Best to avoid Food Colouring and Ajinomoto https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhkCEEW2ajc
Happy hunting and Chowder-on!